Thursday, June 19, 2008

More on Politics and Masculinity

This article ran on Monday at The Moderate Voice. It ties in with the Susan Faludi piece I posted this morning.
Obama-McCain: Manhood Now and Then

June 16th, 2008 by ROBERT STEIN

In the wake of Father’s Day, John McCain and Barack Obama offer, among other contrasts, a confrontation between old ideas about manhood and new–the hard-drinking, womanizing Navy flyboy turned politician and the New Age husband in equal partnership with a powerful wife.

Stereotypes, yes, but the biographical facts are beyond dispute. On his nostalgia tour after clinching the nomination, McCain talked about misadventures in the places he was visiting.

“I remember with affection the unruly passions of youth,” he said in Meridian, Miss., where he had organized an off-base toga party for military buddies and local girls.

At his Virginia high school, he recalled that his disobedience earned him the nickname “worst rat” for sneaking away to Washington burlesque houses and bars.

Outside the Naval Academy in Annapolis, McCain described “nocturnal sojourns” and the hundreds of miles he was forced to march for insubordination.

“I wanted,” McCain recalled in Pensacola, “to live the life of a daring, brash, fun-loving flyer…In truth, the image I aspired to was, in the end, only irresistible to one person–me, and it was a very childish attraction.”

McCain’s vision of manhood comes from life as a carousing son and grandson of admirals and then his sobering experiences as a POW and a Washington politician.

Obama, on the other hand, as he tells it in his books, was an uprooted young man searching for a sense of the father he barely knew and, despite experimentation with drugs, a serious and ambitious young man, described as “grounded, motivated and poised” by his peers.

As they present themselves to voters, McCain and Obama are both remarkable products of their life histories, representing a contrast in styles of American manhood that go far beyond their other generational differences.

Cross-posted from my blog.

The question facing American voters is whether or not they want another cowboy president, or a man who is more in touch with his emotions and more complete in his masculinity.

I think we can safely say that McCain represents the old frontiersman archetype that Faludi talks about in her article from the New York Times. McCain even promotes himself, albeit through his surrogates, as a hero. Yet, the hero is an adolescent archetype, a form of boy psychology, not a mature masculine psychology.

It's hard to say if Obama is more mature or not. But he seems to be more balanced in his masculine and feminine psychology. I think, maybe, he gets it though in a way that McCain doesn't. This is from his Father's Day speech.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children. We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.


It’s up to us — as fathers and parents — to instill this ethic of excellence in our children. It’s up to us to say to our daughters, don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. It’s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we give glory to achievement, self-respect and hard work. It’s up to us to set these high expectations. And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.

The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy — the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft — that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down — you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.
Because of McCain's background, having grown up with a highly successful father and followed in his footsteps, he would never have thought of a speech like this.

Obama grew up without a father, from a very young age, but he clearly had family who helped him as best he could. McCain jokes about his misadventures as a young man, but they are child's play -- the fun a rich young military officer can have when he has few worries.

Obama's dabbling in drugs was the result of his being lost without a father figure at a crucial time in his life. I've been there and done that. And I know that I am a better person for having gone through those things. It wasn't easy, as I'm sure it wasn't for Obama, but what doesn't kill us makes us stronger . . . buit only if we are willing to learn from our mistakes. I did. I think Obama did too.

In the end, I am more likely to trust someone who has been through the shit (not that being a prisoner of war was a walk in the park). Maybe McCain has that whol war hero thing going for him, but that experience likely made even more narrowed in an immature form of masculinity. My hope is that Obama's experience have made him more open to a mature form of masculinity, for the first time in any politician I can think of.

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